The Three Types of Attention
Influencer or influenced? It all comes down to attention.
Everything is vying for your attention all the time.
How many times have you checked your phone today? Your email? Scrolled through Instagram? Retweeted another meme? Checked your ever-growing Evernote to-do list? Reinstalled Tinder?
Of course, technology has been a fundamental source of information and connection to each other during this time. But the same thing that makes it beneficial also makes it a bummer. It is so easily accessible that it is everywhere at all times. It is eating our attention.
The ever-present allure of texts, phone calls, notifications, emails, and DMs pulls our attention away from doing what we need to be doing and getting stuff done. Attention is expensive, and we need to take control of it in order to wake up from the technology coma we find ourselves in. We need to reclaim our most valuable resource, our attention.
What separates the influencers from the influenced is how we direct our attention. However, the single-minded, goal-oriented hustle mentality can often lead to exhaustion, overwhelm, and lack of connection.
The real level-up is learning how to use the three types of attention. Having the three types of attention in your mental toolkit, and using them in synergy helps us to influence our own lives rather than being blindly influenced by what we consume.
By balancing the three types of attention we cultivate more self-awareness, create more meaningful relationships and inspire limitless creativity. And we get shit done!
Most of us are well aware of who we are on the surface. We know our best angles for selfies, how to finesse our qualifications on our resumes, and how to market our professional skills during job interviews. But, what is as important is inner self-awareness, or what Daniel Goleman refers to as “inner focus” in his book, “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.”
The more we understand ourselves and our values and motivations the more capacity we have to direct our own attention instead of having it hijacked. It also helps us to direct our attention to what truly matters to us most.
For example, you may realize that you don’t really care to know about another celebrity’s skincare routine or what “vegans eat in a day,” and so you unfollow unnecessary accounts on Instagram and YouTube. On a broader scale, perhaps you realize that you deeply value inclusive media representation and so you take on more projects that align with your values.
These same skills can help us communicate our ideas more effectively, manage our emotional triggers and develop self-compassion. This in turn assists us in managing the other two types of focus: other (our relationships with others) and outer (our relationship to the world and its’ systems).
For example, when you have a healthy relationship with your triggers, you respond instead of react.
If someone on your team at work annoys the heck out of you, you are able to understand why, and are able to manage the situation in a calmer, more intentional way. So, perhaps instead of seething silently and throwing your coffee at her at a later stage, you communicate your feelings more rationally and find a better solution.
Strengthen inner attention
To strengthen our inner attention we can practice open awareness for ten minutes a day. Find a comfortable seated position and sit up straight, relax your shoulders. Simply notice the thoughts and feelings that arise. Be a witness, and do not react, judge or censor.
This keeps your attention muscle fit and fortifies this inward focus.
This type of attention refers to – you guessed it – other people. It involves active listening and practicing empathy. It not only means turning your phone facedown on the table and not texting or taking any calls during a conversation. It also means tuning into others’ thoughts and feelings and cultivating compassion on a deeper level.
The 360-degree glow-up involves healthier relationships with others. The quality of relationships we have with people in our circle directly impacts our experience of the world.
For example, if you are collaborating on a project with someone, and you feel that they’re not pulling their weight, instead of going off on them, it will pay off to hear them out. Tune into their needs, and see how you can provide it. Once their needs are met, they are able to work on the project with a renewed sense of purpose. It’s a win for everybody.
Cultivate other attention
A simple way to develop empathy or other focus is to just focus on others when you are with them. Be fully present, no distractions.
The second step is to make sure you understand them. When you engage in a conversation, say something like, “What I’m hearing you say is…” and let them know how you have interpreted what they’ve said.
This helps to strengthen your interpersonal skills and authentic connection.
Outer attention helps us to engage in the world with a better understanding of the social systems at play. It allows us to understand that we operate as part of a larger whole.
Have conversations with different types of people – people that are not in your industry, people with different hobbies and interests. Ask them for feedback. This informs our worldview differently and helps us see the bigger picture.
Develop outer attention
You can start small by beginning to notice your surroundings.
By starting to notice your surroundings you attune your focus to recognize patterns and trends. You can apply this to the aspects of your life that require foresight and strategy.
To practice outer attention you need to ask yourself the right questions that will yield answers regarding systems and processes in the field you would like to grow in. For example, in business, you could ask yourself questions about market trends. Where does your product fit within the whole?
These three types of attention shape our reality and our world. Our lives are filled with things competing for our time and attention, from goals to relationships to technology. By developing each of the three types of attention we can find a balance between happiness and productivity. Taking control of these three helps us influence the direction of our lives, rather than being blindly influenced all the time.
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